Belleville, Illinois Demolition Fire Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern

Opportunity Lost in Belleville

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph by Chad Briesacher.

In a strange move, on October 19 the Belleville (Illinois) City Council voted 14-1 to approve a plan that would replace the former Meredith Home with a park. The Meredith Home is the six-story former Hotel Belleville at the southeast corner of Illinois and Main streets at the fountain circle. Built in 1931, the hotel has art deco stylistic elements expressed through brick and terra cotta. Between 1962 and earlier this year, the hotel served as retirement home operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville.

How the City Council came to vote away the sales and property tax revenues the building might generate in the future is uncertain. Using a loan, the city purchased the occupied building for $487,500 in February when the Diocese placed the building for sale. The sale generated some raised eyebrows in light of how the city of Belleville has cited lack of funds as a reason for not assisting the effort to save the former Belleville Turner Hall.

Photograph by Chad Briesacher.

After discussing redevelopment with a boutique hotel developer from St. Louis, Belleville officials abruptly changed course. Suddenly, attorney Bruce Cook stepped forward with an offer to pay off the loan on the property if the old hotel were demolished and the site became a park memorial for his late daughter. The park plan — a noble purpose best suited for a site whose development would cost less — lacks funding for demolition and construction. Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert has stated that the city might help with the cost, even though it has steadfastly refused to help the citizens trying to turn the Turner Hall into an arts center.

Photograph by Chad Briesacher.

Downtown Belleville has many vacant lots and surface parking lots well suited for a small memorial park. The city could easily have helped Cook find another site, and just as easily not purchased a large building that private developers may have purchased. The city does not have another building like the Meredith Home, which has not generated revenues in nearly 40 years. Beyond the preservation issue, it is odd that the city — with its revenues strained like every city’s — would not have jumped at the chance to move a prominent downtown parcel from tax-exempt status to a taxable piece of land. Cities thrive when private initiative, not government control, is the driving force in commercial districts. Belleville has missed a big opportunity with the Meredith Home.

Photograph by Chad Briesacher.

Another Belleville opportunity that hopefully won’t be squandered is a few blocks east at the northeast corner of Main and Jackson streets. In May, a corner building and part of the slipcover-clad former Fellner’s Department Store were destroyed by fire. The taller, more stylized section of the Fellner’s building survives, to the delight of the region’s mid-century modern aficionados.  Hopefully the city of Belleville will support new urban infill on this prime corner.

6 replies on “Opportunity Lost in Belleville”

^ agreed… what hope is there for the region when this is the type of unreason — no, idiocy — that urbanists are up against? this is not even “historic preservation be damned ’cause we want a shiny new walmart.” this is “let’s spend lots of money that we claim not to have to demo a handsome, historic, and potentially revenue generating gem for some grass that won’t generate any revenue even though we have lots of other vacant lots that aren’t generating any revenue already!” and i’m sorry for Cook’s loss, but his insistence on this location is 100% self-centered and disrespectful to everyone else.

Bizarre actions on the part of Belleville city officials. Not to mention assisting a private citizen in erecting a memorial or monument to his deceased daughter. Either the mayor is non too bright, or favors of some variety are being exchanged. Shame, too. That’s some tasty diapering on that building, and since it was owned by the Diocese, it is probably in good shape. Wasteful. American society is one sick mutha.

Build a park, and display the courthouse columns. They’re at risk of being vandalized at Centennial Park. Spray paint soaks into limestone, and cannot be removed. If it becomes a park, the old courthouse stone that JFK stood on, could be displayed there. For over 40 years, the location of the JFK courthouse stone has been a mystery. I just recently aquired it, and in time, plan to donate it to the city, on the condition that it’s displayed there, and only there, next door to where it originally sat.

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